The Books on Young Alan Turing’s Reading List: From Lewis Carroll to Modern Chromatics

turing book list

Image via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

We now regard Alan Tur­ing, the trou­bled and ulti­mate­ly per­se­cut­ed crypt­an­a­lyst (and, intel­lec­tu­al­ly, much more besides)—who cracked the code of the Ger­man Enig­ma machine in World War II—as one of the great minds of his­to­ry. His life and work have drawn a good deal of seri­ous exam­i­na­tion since his ear­ly death in 1954, and recent­ly his lega­cy has even giv­en rise to pop­u­lar por­tray­als such as that by Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch in the film The Imi­ta­tion Game. So what, more and more of us have start­ed to won­der, forms a mind like Tur­ing’s in the first place?

A few years ago, math­e­mat­ics writer Alex Bel­los received, from “an old friend who teach­es at Sher­borne, the school Tur­ing attend­ed between 1928 and 1930,” some “new infor­ma­tion about the com­put­er pio­neer and codebreaker’s school years” in the form of “the list of books Tur­ing took out from the school library while he was a pupil.” Bel­los lists them as fol­lows:

“As you can see, and as you might expect,” writes Bel­los, “heavy on the sci­ences. The AJ Evans, a mem­oir about the author’s escape from impris­on­ment in the First World War, is the only non-sci­en­tif­ic book.” He also notes that “the physics books he took out all look very seri­ous, but the maths ones are light­heart­ed: the Lewis Car­roll and the Rouse Ball, which for decades was the clas­sic text in recre­ation­al maths prob­lems.” Sher­borne archivist Rachel Has­sall, who pro­vid­ed Bel­los with the list, also told him that “the book cho­sen by Tur­ing for his school prize was a copy of the Rouse Ball. Even teenage genius­es like to have fun.”

If you, too, would like to do a bit of the read­ing of a genius — or, depend­ing on how quan­ti­ta­tive­ly your own mind works, just have some fun — you can down­load for free most of these books the young Tur­ing checked out of the school library. Pro­gram­mer and writer John Gra­ham-Cum­ming orig­i­nal­ly found and orga­nized all the links to the texts on his blog; you can fol­low them there or from the list in this post. And if you know any young­sters in whom you see the poten­tial to achieve his­to­ry’s next Tur­ing-lev­el accom­plish­ment, send a few e‑books their way. Why read Har­ry Pot­ter, after all, when you can read A Selec­tion of Pho­tographs of Stars, Star-Clus­ters & Neb­u­lae, togeth­er with infor­ma­tion con­cern­ing the instru­ments & the meth­ods employed in the pur­suit of celes­tial pho­tog­ra­phy?

via Alex Bel­los

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Enig­ma Machine: How Alan Tur­ing Helped Break the Unbreak­able Nazi Code

Alan Tur­ing, Bril­liant Math­e­mati­cian and Code Break­er, Will Be Final­ly Par­doned by British Gov­ern­ment

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads a Let­ter Alan Tur­ing Wrote in “Dis­tress” Before His Con­vic­tion For “Gross Inde­cen­cy”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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